Warning, this post contains clips & images which some readers may find disturbing.
This is part two of a look at some of London’s scariest film and television scenes. For the first instalment, please click here.
The Day of the Triffids (1981)
In this BBC adaptation of John Wyndham’s classic 1951 novel, most of the world’s population have been permanently blinded after witnessing an incredible ‘meteor shower’ (which it transpires, was actually created by malfunctioning Soviet satellites).
Society collapses overnight and to make matters worse the blind are now at the mercy of swarms of ‘Triffids’; bio-engineered plants which can move around freely, lash out and kill.
In this clip, Bill Masen (played by John Duttine) and Jo (Emma Relph), both of whom have managed to escape blindness, are ambushed by a desperate, grasping group of scavengers on Rocliffe Street, Islington.
Later on in the series, a sequence of chilling images depicts an abandoned, crumbling London being reclaimed by nature.
QED: A Guide to Armageddon (1982)
Broadcast at the height of the Cold War, this deeply unnerving QED documentary examined what would occur if a single, 1-megaton nuclear weapon was detonated above St Paul’s Cathedral.
To simulate the impact on the human body, flying glass is blasted at a pumpkin, meat from Lidgate’s butchers is seared to charcoal and actors are slathered in make-up to emulate severe burns and the gruesome effects of radiation poisoning.
Perhaps most terrifying of all though are the early 1980s fashions, as modelled by this young Finsbury Park couple…
The full documentary can be viewed below.
By far one of the most controversial programs ever broadcast on the BBC, Ghostwatch was billed as a live investigation into apparent poltergeist activity at a normal, suburban home in Northolt.
Closely based on the ‘Enfield Haunting‘ from the late 1970s, the malevolent spirit in Ghostwatch was a being nicknamed ‘Pipes’ who is briefly glimpsed several times as chaos unfolds.
The problem with Ghostwatch was that many viewers didn’t realise it was a drama and genuinely believed that the events they were witnessing were real- rather like the infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938. Panic ensued, complaints flooded in and it has never been repeated since…
Red Dwarf: Quarantine (1992)
In this episode of the deep-space set comedy, Red Dwarf the crew discover an abandoned medical research laboratory where professor Hildegarde Lanstrom (played by Maggie Steed) has placed herself in suspended animation. After reviving the professor however it’s discovered that she is infected with a deadly virus which produces petrifying results…
The eerie medical base in this scene is in fact Kempton Park Pumping station, an impressive industrial building on the outskirts of south-west London which is open to the public for guided tours.
28 Days Later (2002)
In the famous, Day of the Triffids inspired opening sequence to this post-apocalyptic horror film, Jim (played by Cillian Murphy) emerges from a coma in St Thomas’s Hospital, only to find himself completely alone and the building deserted.
As Jim heads out onto the streets of London it becomes clear that a massive catastrophe has occurred and the city has been effectively abandoned– something which director, Danny Boyle achieves with tremendous skill, making the capital’s most prominent spots appear completely devoid of life…
Later on in the film, Jim meets Selena (played by Naomie Harris) and London cabbie, Frank (Brendan Gleeson). The group agree to travel together to Lancashire from where a mysterious radio message offering hope and safety is being repeated on a recorded loop- Frank plays the broadcast to Jim and Selena on top of East London’s Balfron Tower:
As they embark on their journey however, Frank’s cab suffers a puncture in the middle of the Blackwall Tunnel, resulting in an utterly terrifying adrenaline rush… (although in real life they wouldn’t need to cross the Thames- the Balfron Tower is already north of the river!)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Despite being a comedy, Shaun of the Dead– a homage to George A. Romero’s infamous zombie films- has some alarmingly tense scenes.
Much of the action occurs in Crouch End, north London where Shaun lives on Nelson Road. The film’s climax however, which takes place in The Winchester pub, was filmed on the opposite side of the city at The Old Duke of Albany on Monson Road, New Cross. The pub has since been converted into flats.
For more chills, please check out my ‘Time Out’ blog- Eight scary London spots you should know about.
A Halloween Special
With Halloween upon us, I think now would be the ideal time to indulge in one of London’s most perplexing ghost stories…
What you are about to read is far removed from traditional tales of headless spooks and Victorian séances… this account is very much a modern-day haunting; a deeply disturbing series of events which occurred at a modest, north London council house during the late 1970s…
The Enfield Poltergeist
Green Street is an unassuming residential road in an area called Brimsdown; part of the London Borough of Enfield.
If you’ve ever ridden the Stanstead Express, you will have passed Brimsdown without even knowing it- at the eastern end of Green Street there is a level crossing, through which trains regularly whisk between Stanstead airport and Liverpool Street station.
Blink and you’d miss it…
In the 1970s, Green Street was home to Peggy Hodgson; a single mum with four children: Margaret (aged 12), Janet (11), Johnny (10) and Billy (7).
It was on the evening of August 30th 1977 that weird things began to happen in the Hodgson’s Enfield residence…
Upstairs, in one of the bedrooms, the children were alarmed to feel their beds wobbling.
Janet called down to her mum- but Peggy, understandably, suspected that her kids were mucking about and shouted back up at them to settle down and get to sleep.
The following night at around 9.30pm, Peggy heard a loud crash.
Assuming her children were once again up to mischief, she stomped upstairs to administer a scolding.
As she entered the bedroom with orders to “pack it in”, Peggy spotted a chest of drawers being hauled forward by its own accord.
Instinctively, she attempted to force the furniture back- but was thwarted by an unseen force, which appeared to be pushing its might against her- rather like two opposing magnets.
Next came the noises; odd knocks and taps which started to rap around the house.
Scared witless, the family hastily donned their dressing gowns and slippers and fled, seeking refuge with their next door neighbours, the Nottinghams.
Head of the Nottingham household was Vic; a roofer by trade whose tough demeanour and practical nature made him the ideal candidate to inspect the strange goings on.
Hoping to calm his terrified neighbours, Vic ventured into the house- he later described his experience in a 1978 radio documentary:
“All I could here was this knocking… and I didn’t know what it was; no idea what it was; just a strange knock on the wall.
I went up the stairs and this knock followed me; three distinctive knocks on the wall. I carried on up the stairs into the front bedroom and there were three knocks on the wall again… strange I thought to myself. I’m beginning to shake.
I go into the back bedroom… same thing again; the knocks followed me.
Anyway, being in the building game I thought to myself, well I’ve got to have a look around the house; be brave like to try and find out what it is. So I go through all the pipes- no airlocks, nothing like that- and it wasn’t a knock like that anyway; it was a distinctive knock on the wall.”
Vic popped back next door and fetched his son and grandfather.
The three men positioned themselves at different rooms within the house- and each reported the distinctive knocks at their separate locations.
With even Vic spooked, the Green Street residents decided to phone the law- whose first question was “have you been drinking?”
Reluctantly, the police sent a squad car with two constables from nearby Ponders End.
The police too heard the distinctive knocking and, downstairs, WPC Carolyn Heaps witnessed a chair move unaided across the floor; something which she testified to in an official document- a brave move considering the possible ridicule from her friends and colleagues:
“On Thursday, 1st September 1977 at approximately 1am I was on duty in my capacity as a police woman when I received a radio message to Green Street, Enfield.
I heard the sound of knocking on the wall… there were four distinct taps on the wall and then silence.
Within a few minutes the eldest son pointed to a chair which was standing next to the sofa. I looked at the chair and noticed it was wobbling slightly from side to side. I then saw the chair slide across the floor towards the kitchen wall. It moved approximately 3-4 feet and then came to rest.”
Although sympathetic, the police had to inform the family that the ominous situation could not be classed as a police matter- after all, no crime had been committed…
The Poltergeist settles in…
Nervously, the Hodgsons returned to their home, but over the following months, the distressing activity would grow far worse… much of it witnessed by friends, neighbours, psychic investigators, council workers and news reporters.
One phenomenon involved Lego bricks and marbles being hurled around the house at high speeds and odd angles- which, even more bizarrely, would stop dead still rather than bouncing when they landed. They were also hot to touch when picked up.
One journalist from The Daily Mirror was hit just above the eye by one of these small missiles- and received a small lump; a testament to the velocity at which the items were being hurled.
Soon, larger objects were being flung.
One reporter witnessed a t-shirt hop off of a table and fly across the room.
The living room sofa was seen to lift above the ground… and then spin around. The bulky television shuffled position and, in the children’s bedroom, a brick was wrenched away from the fireplace.
Puddles appeared and cups filled themselves with water.
Matches were scorched in their boxes and a pair of oven gloves self-combusted.
A mirror also caught fire… the charred remains of which were later collected by Turner-Prize nominee artist, Cornelia Parker, as part of her 1997 installation, ‘The Secret Life of Inanimate Objects’.
On one particular night, the BBC set up camp at 284 Green Street to capture audio evidence… only to later find that metal components in the machine had been bent and the recordings erased.
Terrified, Peggy and her children took to sleeping in the same room, where they would huddle together with the light kept on.
Who ya’ gonna’ call?
In an attempt to garner some clarity, the editor of the Daily Mirror, George Fallows appealed to the Kensington based Society for Psychical Research to come and see if they could work out what was going on.
For the next 13 months, the Hodgsons and their haunted home were put under intense scrutiny.
The investigation was led by Maurice Grosse, a former military man and veteran of the Dunkirk evacuation.
After the war, Maurice had established himself as an inventor- his most successful patent being the rotating advertising board.
Tragically, in August 1976, his 22 year old daughter, Janet was killed in a motorbike accident. It was her death which led Maurice to join the Society for Psychical Research; no doubt as a way of helping to cope with his grief.
Although open to psychic phenomenon, Maurice’s background as an inventor meant that his mind worked in a scientific, methodical manner and as such he was considered the ideal analyst for the Enfield haunting.
He was soon joined by another experienced investigator; Guy Lyon Playfair who published an account of the haunting in 1980.
At first, Guy was reluctant to become involved; convinced that the whole thing was a hoax. However, when he arrived at the house, he soon changed his mind…
By now, the events at Green Street had become even more intense.
As well as household objects being lobbed around, 11 year old Janet- who appeared to be the poltergeist’s main focus- was herself subjected to apparent levitations.
An example of this, which took place one morning at approximately 3am, was caught by an automatic camera which had been installed by the investigators:
On two occasions, two separate witnesses outside the house with a view towards the bedroom window, claimed they spotted Janet floating in the air.
The first sighting, which took place at around lunchtime on December 15th 1977, was attributed to Hazel Short; a lollipop lady who worked on the zebra crossing close to the Hodgson’s home:
“All of a sudden I heard a bang… and saw a book hit the front bedroom window and that was followed by a pillow, then the book, then the pillow again. All of a sudden, I saw Janet going up and down in front of the window- I thought she was jumping up and down on the bed, but when I looked she was horizontal going up and down with her arms and legs going everywhere; I suppose about half a dozen times. It was frightening… I didn’t think it would be, because to be truthful… I was a bit sceptical… well after that I wasn’t.”
The second witness was John Rainbow, a baker delivering bread to the school opposite.
“Before that day I would never had believed anything about it although I had heard various rumours about what had been going on in the house.
The child appeared to float around the room- at the same time the curtains were blowing into the room as if there were a draught- although the windows were completely closed… articles and the child appeared to be revolving around the room in a clockwise direction.
The child’s arm banged against the window twice and I was frightened that the force she banged against it- that the window frame would’ve gone- I fully expected her to drop onto the road. I was frightened, there’s no doubt about it.”
Even more disturbingly, the poltergeist was supposedly beginning to talk through Janet…
The young girl, who also suffered from alarming seizures, would often adopt a deep, gruff voice which identified itself as belonging to a mysterious figure called ‘Bill.’
Janet would speak in the gravelly, menacing voice for hours at a time.
In one experiment, she was made to hold a quantity of water in her mouth… yet the voice still came through.
Further vocal tests were carried out by a Professor from Birckbeck College (now part of the University of London) who concluded that it was next to impossible to speak at length in such a way due to the damage such speech would cause to the vocal cords.
The academic also stated his belief that Janet was not producing the voice consciously.
Unsurprisingly, some sceptics accused the 11 year old of ventriloquism- which led Maurice Grosse to offer a £1,000 reward for anybody who could replicate a similar voice.
There were no takers.
With his often foul language and grumpy attitude ‘Bill’ made for a very sinister houseguest.
In one session- which, like many others, was caught on tape- Bill, speaking through Janet, stated that he had once lived and died at the Green Street home.
However you chose to look at it, the description of death which the supposed entity provides is most disturbing when you remember that it is being spoken by an 11 year old girl:
“Before I died I went blind…then I had a hemorrhage and I fell asleep and I died in a chair in a corner downstairs…”
This statement can be heard in the excerpt below… although please be warned, it is likely to send a chill down your spine…
Three years after the main events of the haunting, the Hodgson family were contacted by a man who claimed that his father- William (aka ‘Bill’) Wilkins had indeed lived in the house years before…and had died of a brain hemorrhage whilst resting in an armchair…
By the autumn of 1978 the hauntings began to die down.
However, the knocks and taps continued and there was a further burst of activity during the summer of 1980.
Following the haunting, the lives of the Hodgsons were far from blessed.
Johnny died of cancer aged just 14 and Janet lost a baby son to cot death when she was 18.
Speaking in 2007 Janet (then in her early 40s) said in a rare interview;
“I know from my own experience that it was real… it lived off me, off my energy. Call me mad or a prankster if you like. Those events did happen. The poltergeist was with me- and I feel in a sense that he always will be.”
The presence remains…
In 2003, Peggy Hodgson died and the Green Street home was taken over by Clare Bennet who, like Peggy, was a single mum with four children- although in this case they were all boys.
Of her time at Green Street, Clare said that she frequently felt a presence; as if she were being watched- at first, she had no idea of the home’s dubious history.
Her boys would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, saying that they could hear voices downstairs.
One of the lads; 15 year old Shaka, claimed he was woken up in the middle of one night and confronted by a ghostly vision of a man standing in the room.
The Bennets stuck Green Street for just two months…
In 1992, the case of the Enfield Poltergeist inspired a controversial BBC drama entitled Ghostwatch which was broadcast on Halloween night that year.
Starring Craig Charles, Sara Greene and Michael Parkinson, Ghostwatch bore many similarities to the Enfield case- it was set in an ordinary council home in suburban London (Northolt in this case) and centred on a single mum and her two daughters who were being tormented by a malevolent poltergeist- the evil spirit of a man who had died in the house years before.
Although a scripted, pre-filmed drama, Ghostwatch was made to appear as if it were an actual investigation, being broadcast live… and many people, thanks to the documentary nature of the show and the presence of the usually reassuring Michael Parkinson, tuned in half way through and believed the events depicted to be very real!
The BBC switchboard was jammed with phone calls from petrified viewers… and people across Britain were reduced to nervous wrecks, unable to sleep soundly for many nights afterwards.
Ghostwatch has never been repeated on British television since.